"Without data, you're just another guy with an opinion."
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Insights from a sales leader: What weapons to add to your arsenal right now

The basic principles are the same, but the execution has transformed heavily.

If a sales manager fell into a coma five years ago and just woke up, he would probably have some serious learning to do before getting back to business. That’s how much, and how fast things are moving, not just in the business of sales, but in business in general.

Sales managers are adding all kinds of new technologies to their arsenal, both hardware and software. These are making a huge difference in their day-to-day activities and most importantly – their output.

But it’s not just sales managers. Companies that they are selling to – they are changing as well. With a huge uptake in cloud-based technologies, SaaS solutions, mobile and remote working, the whole idea of solving a company’s problem through new tech warrants a fresh approach.

So how do you learn what’s new and where the business of sales is heading? You talk to an expert, of course!

With that in mind, we sat with Michael Fisher, a high-class sales manager from a global, multinational computer tech corporation, to discuss challenges, setting up goals, prospecting and using new and innovative tech to get where every salesperson wants to be – in the hearts and minds of their customers.

Know your game

The biggest challenge sales managers are facing nowadays is being able to accurately forecast. This also seems to be the hardest part of the job, because poor forecasting will leave the boss thinking you’re not good enough and don’t know the business well enough.

“You have a number for a quarter, and you have to explain to your director what your deals are that will get you that number, and how certain you are,” he says, before concluding: “You’ve got to be freaking right.” Otherwise, you might be seen as a charlatan, consequently ending up getting fired.

Which means you have to know your game. And given that your customers’ problems are your game, you need to know absolutely everything there is to know about both the customers and their company.

“By the time I get on a phone call with you, I’m already an expert in you,” he says.

One way to become an expert in someone and their business, is to learn the language of the business you’re approaching. If you’re an American trying to impress an Italian lady, you need to know how to speak Italian.

“Sure, every once in a while the product is going to sell itself,” he says, chuckling, before driving the point home. “But you need to know the language”. You do that by studying your target persona. Google it. Use your LinkedIn network to find people in the same industry and talk to them, get an understanding of what they measure to. It boils down to one thing: “What do you care about?”

And once you learn, and get on the phone with them, you need to *listen*. This is a point he stressed multiple times. “The goal of the salesperson is to become a trusted advisor. You need to ask super good questions and be able to listen to understand. Some salespeople just listen as they wait to talk. A great salesperson will really listen to try and understand. And you’ll know they’re listening by the questions that they’re asking.”

But there is one layer that can’t be uncovered with due diligence, no matter how deep you dig, and that’s the personal level. Once you get on a phone call with a prospect, you can know all there is to know about a company, and still not know why they’re thinking of buying.

The three Whys

And this is where good salespeople are separated from great salespeople. When on the phone with a prospect looking to buy, a new salesperson will ask the prospect why they’re interested in the product – once. A good salesperson will ask “Why” two times. A great salesperson will ask three times, because that’s where it gets personal.

“Let’s say someone comes to the website, signs up, becomes a lead. You follow up with the person, trying to learn what’s driving the interest and introduce yourself as a resource. They say, here’s the problem – we’ve got a lot of leads that are falling through the cracks. OK, that’s a business problem. However, a good salesperson will go deeper. He will ask you “why” – again. That helps you understand more. It also helps them understand the size and the scope of their problem.

With those leads falling through the cracks, you end up losing two million dollars in month. And that’s where it gets personal. That’s when you ask them: ‘How is that affecting you?’

As it ends up, he’s probably going to get fired. He’ll never say that out front, but it’s something you can understand from the conversation.”

Once you know the business problem, the personal problem behind it, and the way you can help them overcome it, that’s when you can actually start selling. “I can make you look like a rock star to your boss.”

Business as (un)usual

One thing that needs to be kept in mind at all times, he says, is how drastically things changed, especially in SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). A few years ago, you’d sell a product to a company, and if it eventually goes out of business, it wouldn’t mean too much to you, because you already sold them whatever it is that you’re selling.

Now, with cloud, they just cancel their subscriptions, meaning losses for you, as well. So you genuinely need to care about your customers.”

Prospecting is another aspect of a salesperson’s work that saw radical change. High-class players use in-house built software, powered by AI, that allows salespeople to identify targets, who the people behind those accounts are, and a plan to follow up to that person, eight to 12 times over the course of two to three weeks.

“We use a lot of automated tasks. The system tells you who you’re following up on today, and gives you recommended email templates and call scripts. We want the user to show up and let the system guide them. You figure out who you want to target. The system will tell you the rest. It will tell you things like ‘This is the first time you’re following up, here’s a bunch of intro emails’”.

Choosing who to prospect, who to contact, has also evolved, mostly due to the fact that many companies now use all kinds of software which opens up a whole new approach corridor, and a good one, at that.

The first steps are as any salesperson would think – the ‘low hanging fruit’. Businesses that already bought something, that already know who they’re buying from and what they can get. These can connect the salesperson with someone who could also be interested in the product.

“But then, you’ll ask, which company looks like the company that typically buys the most? And then, who am I selling to? VP of HR? Sales? Once you identify the right people, do your homework on that person, don’t just cold email them.”

And this is where things get interesting.

Doing homework on the right people has evolved. He gives the example of blogs. A lot of people blog nowadays, and that gives salespeople an opportunity to strike a meaningful conversation. “Hey, I saw your blog on the importance of shifting to cloud, it’s a great piece”, he imagines how this new cold email could start. “I myself, as someone who sells cloud services, have a few ideas of my own”. It’s an interesting approach.

But great salespeople will dig even deeper. They’ll check their prospect’s current tech stack, to see what technologies they’re using and if there is room there to get creative. “You need to learn as much to understand if there is anything else that might help them grow their business.”

Wrapping up

The basic ingredients of being an awesome salesperson are the same, it’s what you mix them with that’s changed. You need to know as much as you can about your potential prospect, and understand where you can fit in and help them grow. You need to be a decent human person, listen to them and try to get to the human side of their story.

But technology has forced salespeople to evolve. Doing due diligence now means looking at the tech stack your prospect is using. It means paying attention to their blog and social media conversations they’re getting into. It means using new technology to help you prospect and keep tabs on where you are. And finally, automating as much as you can because, at the end of the day, you’re only human.

If you’d need to fit the answer to “What makes a great salesperson” question in a single word, that word would definitely be ‘data’. “Without data, you’re just another guy with an opinion.”